(Raising Hell, by Norman Spinrad. Oakland: PM Press, 2014, 108 pp., $12.00)
reviewed by Zeke Teflon
Raising Hell is the latest in PM Press’s Outspoken Authors series. It will likely surprise many of Spinrad’s sci-fi fans due to its nature: it’s a picaresque fantasy rather than science fiction. It’s the story of Dirty Jimmy DiAngelo, the president of the National Union of Temporary Substitutes (NUTS), who dies and finds himself in hell next to Jimmy Hoffa in a boiler ro0m filled with former union leaders. Once there, Dirty Jimmy undertakes a campaign to unionize the demons tormenting him. Raising Hell is not laugh-out-loud funny, but it is amusing and thought provoking, and readers will likely find themselves smiling while going through it.
Following the conclusion of the novella, there’s an essay by Spinrad, “The Abnormal New Normal.” It’s a cogent analysis of the decline of the union movement, the economic decline of the middle class, and the structural economic problems in the U.S. After the analysis, Spinrad offers a number of partial remedies for these problems, though there’s nothing radical in his proposals; they’re standard left-liberal fare such as raising the minimum wage, taxing capital gains at the same rate as income from labor, etc. There’s nothing wrong with such proposals, and if you’re satisfied with leaving capitalism intact and simply ameliorating its worst excesses, they make a lot of sense. But if you want to move beyond the present unjust, ecologically suicidal system, you’ll find little of interest in Spinrad’s proposals.
Raising Hell concludes with a lengthy interview with Spinrad conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson. Those wondering why so few new works by the prolific Spinrad have appeared in the U.S. since the turn of the millennium will find a partial answer here: he’s had four novels published in France since then that have never appeared in the U.S. That’s a shame, because Spinrad has written a number of wonderful books, and it’d be nice to see if any of his new ones fit in that category.
Update: Since I wrote this review I’ve read another of Spinrad’s recent sci-fi novels, He Walked Among Us (2009), and absolutely loved it. I’ll post a review of it in July or August.
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Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel.